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Small Thing for Yourself

Small Thing for Yourself

"Self care" is an interesting concept to consider, especially from a Buddhist perspective that teaches us the self doesn't actually exist. If that's the case, then what does Buddhism have to say about taking care of ourselves?

In part of the story of Siddhartha and his path to enlightenment, he renounces his position of prosperity and wealth in order to practice extreme asceticism. He refuses all worldly comforts, including basic necessities like food and drink, with the intention of transcending the limitations of our existence. It is said that he became so weakened and emaciated that he could no longer participate in his practice and was saved only by accepting an offering of kheer (rice pudding). Though in choosing to eat, drink, and nurture his body, Siddhartha was ostracized and looked down upon by the ascetics, the experience supported his way to understanding the Middle Path.

Just as we can't gain perspective or alleviate our suffering through extreme hedonism, neither can we do so with extreme denial. The Buddhist perspective of self teaches us that it is a meeting point of many things: matter, processes, environment, thoughts, feelings, experiences, relationships, etc. all interacting with one another to give rise to an ever changing, conscious form.Self care, from the Buddhist perspective, is therefore not to glorify the self or drown out our fear and pain with enjoyment, but rather to provide the fuel necessary for the self to do the greatest good for the longest time that it can.

For instance, let's say that I normally budget $100 a month of various spa treatments to help me relax and look my best. It could be a facial, nail treatments, or a massage. At the end of two weeks, my nails are chipped again, and by the end of the month, my neck and shoulder pain are back from all the stress I've accumulated. Maybe I should wonder why I feel constantly stressed in the first place. Maybe I can examine more deeply into why it's important for my appearance to look a certain way. Instead of spending $100 a month for these services, I wonder what difference I can make if I put the funds toward counseling services instead.

In a different example, let's say I spend an hour and half every week visiting a friend at her house, watching a reality TV show together over a bottle of wine. We laugh at the contestants, ridicule the manufactured drama, and complain about work. By the end of the night, I feel superior to complete strangers whose lives are a bigger mess than my own and somehow know nothing more on how my friend is doing except what she has to complain about. I wonder would the time be better spent just going for a twenty-minute walk together instead. Would we feel more connected with our town, exploring the streets, greeting neighbors in passing? Would our bodies be healthier for the exercise? Would I have more to talk about with my friend, using the time as a chance to learn about how her family is doing or what hobbies she wants to pursue?

There are many ways in which we can take care of ourselves, but there are differences between hiding our pain or distracting ourselves from our own discomfort, and creating balance in our lives. It may not seem like much, but we can always do small things every day that make huge, long-term differences. And that makes them not so small after all.

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